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Living Through a Coup in Thailand

As you’ve probably heard by now, Thailand is in the middle of its 12th coup since 1932 (not including seven attempted ones). After 6 months of increasingly turbulent and violent protests, General Prayuth Chan-ocha finally had enough and said “Yeah, I’m in charge now.” This is my second coup in Thailand, and while neither I – nor most people – can say with any certainty what comes next, I can say that living through the Thai coups so far has not been what an uninitiated westerner would imagine them to be. 

When I was sitting in Mrs. MacDonald’s Social Studies class during all 3 years of high school (okay, 8 years), the term “coup” came up several times, and was usually followed by pictures of bloodshed, violence, riots, and death. Granted, we never studied the “nice” coups, or the “boring” ones that go off without a hitch – high school kids don’t react well to the study of complicated political manoeuvrings. The Russian Revolution of 1917, the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, and other ones lost to the mist of time were studied – the ones with some serious fallout.

But while coups in Thailand’s past have certainly been tragic and terrifying, thankfully, coups in Thailand in the 21st century have not been anything like that, and I hope they never will be.

During the 2006 coup, I was really nervous, as images from my high school textbooks flashed into my mind. But my (Thai) girlfriend at the time calmed my nerves, saying “Don’t worry, this is just how we do things in Thailand.” She was right to an extent, although it’s not like everyone was holding hands and singing after that.

Here’s what happened today: I got a message from my wife saying “Did you hear the news?” I immediately checked Twitter and bam, coup. Then I continued working. The rest of the afternoon was filled with pockets of conversation throughout the office discussing certain points, keeping coworkers up to date, and pontificating this way or that. M’Lady and I had already booked tickets to see a movie so after work we headed to the theater to grab dinner first. Then we got word the curfew would start at 10pm and the trains would stop running at 8pm, all but ensuring a nightmare commute home. We decided to see the movie another time and call it a night. Now we’re at home watching movies.

Since the curfew has been in effect, things are eerily quiet. I went outside around 10:30 and took a picture of my street, which is usually jammed with cars and bikes and people eating dinner at this time of night. Tonight…nothing.

Notice the dogs walking up the street on the left, Walking Dead-style.

Notice the dogs walking up the street on the left, Walking Dead-style.

For most of the city, people have no choice but to grit their teeth, shake their head, and go about their lives. I sincerely hope the powers that be (and those that oppose them) manage to keep this process as boring as possible, ensuring that it doesn’t descend into the chaos and blood of coups past.

To end the post, I took another picture in my neighborhood of something that I’ve never seen before. When this happens, you know things are serious: a closed 7-11.

photo 5

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14 Comments

  1. Just found your blog via a post on twitter, Hope you don’t mind but I’ve posted a link this one on my FB page as a bit of a reassurance to ‘folks back home’. We are relative newbies in Chiang Mai (just under a year) and we have been ( understandably) dealing with a lot of freak outs from UK for the last few days. This is a very balanced view of ‘normal’ life at the moment ( and i haven’t had time to write my own ‘don’t panic’ blog yet because there are so many people panicking!).

    Will be revisiting some more of your other posts soon :)
    Hils

    • Hey Hils, thanks for commenting. As my friend said the other day, “this ain’t my first rodeo” and, unfortunately, you get used to it. What people often forget is that these things are usually like icebergs – 90% of it goes on behind the scenes and we’ll never even know about them. No one on any side wants Thailand to suffer more than (they think) is necessary, so I always have to retain a shard of optimism that things will be back to normal soon. That being said, it’s sensitive, and things like this can and have turned bad quickly in the past. Just keep an eye on things and you’ll be fine. Make sure your friends back home know too. :)

  2. Wait a minute, so you went out past curfew!? How do they enforce it? I can’t imagine Bangkok shutting down at 10pm.

    • Yeah, it’s a weird sight to see. And it’s not like they have gunships hovering overhead waiting to shoot those who are out, but for the most part, people just grumble about it and call it an early night. Expect a mini-baby boom in 9 months. :)

  3. I am surprisingly glad about the coup, hope it will bring peace and order. I am planning a trip to Thailand this summer and was more worried about possible clashes and protests blocking the streets, than I am now about the military takeover. I hope everything and everyone will calm down in a couple of weeks and I will be able to enjoy my vacation as before :)

    • Thanks Leo, although don’t be too happy. These things can turn bad quickly. The problem is that some people see the army as just another group trying to stop them from getting what they want, and they’ll fight either way, no matter who that group is. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that way.

  4. I’m linking to your account here to explain to my American friends why I’m so nonchalant about the coup.

    Look. We’ve had 12 coups since 1932. That’s an average of one every 6.8 years. We’re used to this now. LOL

    • Thanks Oak, and I agree, most people just get on with their lives. The problem is that globally, the number of coups have decreased steadily over the years. If you look at this chart, you can see that the number of coups are steadily shrinking. The fact that they’ve become almost normal in Thailand doesn’t bode well for the rest of the world taking Thailand seriously in the 21st century, which has huge military, economic and development implications.

  5. Sir Greg, you take care, you hear? I think of you often, especially when things like this are happening. I don’t know if I would be staying there; probably running back home where things are somewhat normal ( at least to our way of thinking). But you seem to be having a great life. I wish you and your wonderful wife all the very best. Keep safe.

    • Thanks David, it sure is more interesting here than back home. That’s usually a good thing, but not always. These things in Thailand are like really cold winters in Canada – people bitch and complain about them, but go about their daily lives, and before you know it, things are back to normal. :)

  6. I like your blog, Greg! I was also out past curfew but there was little point as nothing was open. Here, I’ll trade you a blog post: http://rockbangkok.blogspot.com/2014/05/feelin-hot-hot-hot.html

    • Thanks Bek! Nice blog – you are the most prolificest writer I know. :) And don’t get too daring staying out past curfew, there’s a limit to your badassery.

  7. ฉันมีความสุข ทุกคนรัก ในสิ่งที่ พวกคุณ มี มีแนวโน้มที่จะ ขึ้นมากเกินไป ดังกล่าว ทำงานที่ฉลาดและ ได้รับ รายงาน !
    ติดตาม ยอดเยี่ยม ทำงาน
    พวก ฉันได้ เพิ่ม พวกคุณ เป็น ของตัวเอง บล็อก .

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